Past vs future makes the present tense

The planning report acknowledged that significant damage will be caused - if not to the buildings themselves, then to their contexts and surroundings, which can potentially have just as much impact on an area’s history as a full demolition of a building. 

The conditions included Network Rail assisting MoSI in opening up land that the Chord would not affect, thus allowing the museum to increase its use of the land around the railway, despite the scheme causing significant damage to the museum’s ability to run trains.

MoSI claims that its withdrawal is not related to the £3 million being offered by Network Rail, and that its heritage rail services will continue. It says the Chord will not detract either from the rail services or the heritage attractions linked to them.

In this day and age, a museum cannot be entirely blamed for deciding to accept such a potentially life-saving cash injection (bearing in mind that MoSI is a part of the National Museums of Science and Industry, and therefore a government entity that includes the National Railway Museum).

So is the Government and all those involved with the Northern Hub process all putting progress before the railway’s heritage? In some instances yes, undoubtedly. Signal boxes, many unique, are demolished every month. Many of the rail network’s lesser buildings are swept aside without any regard for the thousands of man hours that were worked within them. 

In its application, NR even admits the damage that is going to be caused by the Chord: “Although a number of the impacts when considered in isolation can be considered to cause less than substantial harm, the extent of the proposals and number of impacts could be said to result in an overall accumulative impact which is of substantial harm.”

And yet, in other parts of the country, more bridges, buildings and railway heritage assets are being preserved than ever before. 

Brunel’s viaduct at Maidenhead is being given special consideration in a way that any right-thinking planning expert would approve. Lightweight, low-profile overhead line equipment is being used after consultation with local residents and authorities (RAIL 776).  

The viaduct at Hewenden (see feature, pages 70-75) is an example of a piece of railway heritage once thought useless that is now being put to good use. 

Then there’s the St Pancras renovation… the retention of the former signal cabin at York… Scarborough’s ‘long bench’… the list of features being retained (some despite their redundancy) goes on.

Can we learn lessons from railway heritage overseas, where railway heritage is often integrated successfully into large and modern schemes? 

One example is Paris Gare du Nord station. The 1889 train shed and spectacular frontage has been preserved, while inside the reorganisation of platforms and installation of relatively unobtrusive overhead line equipment has allowed the atmosphere of the departure area to be retained. 

And yet the 1889 improvement work involved the wholesale rebuilding of the original 1840s station, which has been absorbed and its style significantly altered.

Another example of a heritage asset’s recognition bringing long-term benefits and praise is the retention of the Grand Central terminus in New York. 

In 1968, plans were drawn up to build a large tower block on the site, destroying the dilapidated facade of the little-used station. The railways in the US had declined rapidly, and it was thought the building’s heritage value was outweighed by the progress and new vitality to the economy that more office and trading space would bring. However, the station was designated a landmark of the city of New York, and was saved.

Former First Lady of the United States Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis succinctly stated the case for the preservation of historic landmarks in the city: “Is it not cruel to let our city die by degrees, stripped of all her proud monuments, until there will be nothing left of all her history and beauty to inspire our children? If they are not inspired by the past of our city, where will they find the strength to fight for her future?”

Having said this, the original head house of Grand Central, a huge piece of early American railroad history, was demolished in the early 20th century to make way for the much-lauded terminus we see there today. 

Back in the UK, is Liverpool Road similarly such a landmark? Arguably so. Would its fully intact preservation be considered a wise move in the future? That remains to be seen.

There is an obvious link to be drawn here between the Ordsall Chord and the Euston Arch (RAIL 601). The perceived unnecessary removal of the latter, and the ensuing sense of loss and tragedy felt by many after its demolition in 1961, could be seen as a precedent. 

English Heritage even mentions this in its objection to the Ordsall scheme, although Planning Inspector Brendan Lyons dismisses it, believing it to be an entirely different situation. 

Protests against the demolition of Euston Arch came from preservationists including Sir John Betjeman, while Prime Minister Harold McMillan was even approached and begged to save it. The prohibitive £190,000 cost of its being moved was roundly defeated by the £12,000 demolition cost, however, and the Arch was lost. 

Its remains were dumped into canals, and its gates are now in the National Railway Museum in York. The lodges that survive it are now all that is left of the original station at Euston, which was demolished in 1962 just after the arch. Will the Ordsall Chord echo Euston’s description as being “one of the greatest acts of post-war architectural vandalism in Britain”?

English Heritage continued to oppose the Ordsall Chord plans vociferously, even after they were approved by the DfT Planning Officer. Its objection to the Ordsall Chord Order (submitted in October 2013) notes significantly that the Network Rail proposal is at odds with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), a guideline by which planning proposals are assessed. 

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  • FrankH - 28/01/2016 16:01

    The first sentence, last paragraph on page one says it all. Cheaper and quicker to build.

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